I used to lead all worship music from my seat at the piano which included a choir, rhythm section, and, at times, horns or a small orchestra. I turned my head and body away from my vocal microphone to see what was going on with our teams and to give needed cues as the worship leader to the congregation. All of this turning, caused me to miss that sweet spot on my vocal microphone, besides causing back strain. The audio tech nearly faced-palmed each time this happened–likely when I was speaking or singing a vital part. Of course, I thought there must be ways to solve this problem. How about a head-worn microphone? Would that work?
Limitations and ministry: How to make your worship music thrive within rigid limitations
A few hundred bucks later, with absolute confidence of it being a lifesaver, our microphone arrived. The test of the mic at rehearsal went very well, so we immediately debuted its use into the service the following Sunday. For several reasons, our reality crushed our expectations of this new tool. The new EQ (equalization) of the audio from the microphone did not seem to work well in the live setting of worship. And, every “P” was an explosion, distractingly popping in the PA system. This microphone perhaps was a decent tool for a singer that did not have an orchestra and band around him. There were many factors we did not consider. It sat in a drawer for a long time after a few weeks of trial.
You see, the real issue was not a technological one. On the one hand, we had me the worship leader doing too much! With a choir and vocal team, it was surely OK for the audio tech to be instructed to let them carry the lead for some of the service singing, relieving the worship leader from the spotlight and vocal point. On the other hand, there were accomplished people in the worship music team who could have simply given the band the cues they needed from the instrumental side. How do we solve our limitations in worship music ministry? The solution to a problem in ministry as well as in art is the person, not the technology. Tools require people to operate them.
But, what about the fact that our church has few talented musicians–isn’t that insurmountable? Doesn’t our small budget and resources create a roadblock? Our building has the worst acoustics. My pastor never plans his sermons ahead far enough for me to plan the music to sync with his series! The sound system squeaks at least three times every service. Our worship could be so impactful if only we could hire another team member on our staff or pay another musician. Our subwoofers are so small for the size room; no one can even feel them past the 10th row! You can add your own to the list, I’m sure. Limitations and our reactions are dealt with almost daily in worship ministry. Will gear or money solve all of these, or are we missing the point about what people with God’s empowerment can accomplish?
Yes, we need to focus on the people as our main resource in any ministry–even the arts! People–these image bearers of the Creator–are filled with the Spirit, and their gifts are what we in leadership are called to release. But, what does this mean in all practicality? How do we face the limitations that exist in our typical church settings? Tools, by the way, are treasured. How do we make the right choices when purchasing or committing to their use? I hope to offer some real-world wisdom–wisdom bought with mistakes and blunders like the story I just shared. The clue is that we may have to change our thinking about limitations altogether.
The limitation of attitude.
Let me give you a principle to help frame our discussion. Limitations are not your enemy. If we view them as challenges to meet, opportunities to seize, or doors to new ways of seeing we overcome our darker side. Just as in life, ministries have seasons and every one of these seasons has its unique joys as well as pains. With opened eyes, we cannot be accused of being naive but see better our limitations as they truly are. In times of launch, a ministry is new and the joy is in seeing a ministry develop for the first time, shaping it with the unique DNA of the crew God has put around you. But, when you are starting out your focus is on the crisis of the moment more than the future you are building. Chaos rules. When you are in a season of plateau, the joy is in steadiness and refocusing on what matters most. The downside is that you forget this comfortable season is likely to eventually take you back to chaos. When we are in a season of decline, it is often only seen as a dreary. But, joy flows from legacy or from releasing the reins to a new generation. Thinking about our season helps correct our attitude.
The point is that our approach can cripple us if we are either too negative or too positive about the season we live in. Disciplined can show us that where you are is likely not your fault. The season of your church cannot be controlled by the worship leader which give some solace. We are not the savior of our declining church–even if our leadership hopes for this to be the case! We cannot quell the chaos that accompanies the launching of a new church or campus, either. If you are in a growing and thriving season it is likely to be painful, not the blissful utopia your envious colleagues believe it to be. When ministry is in a plateau or decline there is still joyous and meaningful ministry to keep us on task. What we can control is not our circumstances. If we prayed more about our attitude and approach than our painful circumstances we might see more answers–although, this is not our nature most of the time. We want the limitations around us to change, not us! Change your attitude and you and I might be shocked at what follows. We can choose limitations to be a friend of a foe.
The limitation of size.
In our nation today the benchmark for God’s blessing on everything is growth–from your church, your worship team, to your family’s pocketbook. Does this work in reality, however? “When I recruit twenty more people to our choir, then we will see a response in worship.” The limitation of size hits us all. If small, our desire is not to the opposite. If we are big, we want to be huge. The scale or size of a ministry can change over time, but today you have what you have. How are you seeing the limitation of size hinder your ministry? If you have a choir of 20 and only two bass singers it is likely hard to do complicated 4-part choral arrangements. If your megachurch has 40 qualified acoustic guitar players and only 4 slots then a good amount of talent is benched. The principle is this: While growth solves one problem, it is likely to create even more!
You cannot escape the limitation of size. Grow from a worship team with a couple of singers and a small band to having multiple worship leaders, a couple backing vocal teams, and rotating musicians, and you only exchange one pain for another. Here is one contrast: The joy of having a team you serve with each week that remains with you for years versus the joy of seeing many more musicians serving in their gifting. These are not opposites, however. Both work! In the first example, the downside might be in having a team empty on a week when the flu runs through the church. In the second, the relationships will take longer to forge the sense of family appreciated by a smaller, tighter band.
The approach then is to take your small team or larger team and fill the hole in the system. Remember, we work in seasons, so if you are in the seat as a worship leader for a long period of time you should eventually experience both spectrums of size. The hole in the smaller church or team can be filled by building extended relationships with people beyond your congregation. Is there a college nearby? Maybe one of their student bass players can fill in. With that potential relationship, you provide relief to your current players as well as broaden your influence in the local community. If your team is full and over the brim, taking the time to foster deeper ties might be the approach. How can you personally relate to them all? If you can’t, why not grow a small circle that then helps you by building personal bonds with the new folks on the team. Delegation is the key in this case. The limitation of size is here to stay but whatever the scale, an opportunity to thrive exists. Be prepared to hit a moving target.
The limitation of gear.
Yes, people are the primary solution to our issues in ministry—as God’s created image bearers who are empowered by his Spirit. So, what tools then best serve the people? The principle is this: Gear that extends our humanity rather than replaces it is what we should invest in. Does our purchase extend the work of people or are we simply looking to make things efficient? When it comes to gear, we have to look at it as serving a family rather than tooling a factory. Efficiency then may actually be our enemy. But, how can tools that make life easier in our work be a bad thing?
The tools themselves are indeed not a bad, in my opinion. My hammer has never talked back to me–even though I have said words to my hammer. I remember in one ministry setting a curtain vendor who not only saved us money but who reminded us of the advantage we have as churches. Our stage area needed some curtains, and we wanted automatic curtains. To our surprise, the vendor asked us, “Don’t you have people who could pull the curtains by hand?” Most of his clients in the theater world had to pay for labor for every task. He reminded us that all it took was a volunteer to be available each time we needed them opened and closed. We could save by skipping the automatic system. We found out that we always had people willing to open and close that curtain!
What may seem inefficient, to me smells like an opportunity for ministry employment. Are we buying tools to include more workers or eliminate them? Our goals are to field an army of servants and outsourcing needs to give way to crowdsourcing when ministry is the issue. As far as worship music, it might mean we use less tracked loops and ask musicians to play more of the parts on our worship songs. It might mean we have a member of the band produce the loops in his home studio rather than simply download one. If we ask a team member to score a part, it might take time, but if that means the pianist who cannot read chords can play the notes, we all win.
The limitation of training.
You have one person who can run the worship slides, and she is accurate, detailed and faithful—until she has to take a trip away on the weekend for her job. No one has her skills, so only one person is capable at adequately filling the role as your slide or screen operator. This is what engineers call a single point of failure. If you look at all your worship music, tech, and ministry roles and see a single point of failure, you are betting on the best of conditions occurring all the time. To live in reality is to see that your lovely volunteer who is lonely in his or her role might not be there forever. In fact, maybe God might want to move them to another ministry with even greater responsibility in your church. They might feel like they are the only ones who will or can do this. They faithfully fill a slot when perhaps their next step is unseen and potentially thwarted by being stuck.
Often, our biggest limitation to recruiting is training not commitment. I thought about putting “commitment” as one of our limitations in this post. However, that would be too easy and even mislead to some degree. People are overcommitted. It is how they prioritize their lives that make ministry today difficult to staff. If they are interested, they will commit. How do you create this interest? You find a way to train them to succeed. The principle is this: We succeed when we pass ministry on to people who then do the same to others, and so on.
If we spend our time putting out the fires started by the tantrum-throwing minority, we miss the golden chance to build into people who will take us further. And, if we build into people who then do the same thing, exponentially we have growth and improvement on our side! Our limitation is not that in a church we accept everyone, it is in choosing everyone to spend our time on. If we need to serve more people, the key is to build the right machine–more people serving! If you are going to stretch your budget, then training is the place to do it. Invest where it counts. People.
When is the last time you trained your volunteers or brought in training for them? If you have an audio team, have you thought about hiring a coach to show up for a day? Have you asked people to lessons to improve? The limitation in training is a hard sell when so much opportunity for growth is available. From worship conferences to podcasts, worship people have access to content. The content is not the issue. Our value about training is the issue.
The limitation of myself.
The three people in the way most of the time are me, myself, and I! Yes, are the actual limitation we have to address and live within daily. We can only be in one place at one time. The laws of physics mean I am confined in time and space! The good thing about that is that I am in good company. Jesus, part of the Trinity, limits himself to time and space by being fully a person as well as God. The skin we walk in, however limiting it may be, is how God created us to be. Being human, then, is a limitation that was designed by God. At the very least need to treat ourselves like Jesus did. If he rested, prayed, and took time alone, then we should follow suit.
Remember when I shared that I was doing several roles while sitting at the piano when I led worship? I was attempting to direct a choir, play piano, lead the worship, and be the lead singer all at the same time. My younger self pretty much ended up exhausted on the sofa each Sunday afternoon from that effort. But, as I have learned, I am so much better at sharing or giving away roles than filling them all by myself. I can’t fill them, in fact. What does delegation do? It both extends my ministry as well as empowers others to be in their sweet spot. It is a win-win!
In the book I wrote, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader, I explain in detail how the six roles of worship leading work together. I learned this because for a time I was in the way! Every hat of worship leadership was somehow on my head. I was limiting my ministry, and you might be as well. In fact, the more talented you are, the more likely it is that you may be in the way of the success and growth of your ministry. And, there is that physics issue. Anything that requires you to be in two places at the same time will prove a failure. Splintering one person’s strengths versus working as a team is our tension. It is always better to leverage rather than diffuse our ministry. How do we get out of the way without losing our place, then?
The principle is this: We need to learn to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. Taking care of ourselves is both how we structure our work–as in wearing or sharing hats–as well as how we feed our souls. Do we have healthy sleep patterns? What is our diet like? Are we hanging around positively challenging people or with those who divert us from our purpose? If we learn to delegate, we both relieve our load as well as expand our ministry leadership. Are we hoarding or releasing God’s work to others? Our balance of work and life begins with the admission of our personal limitations.
Limitations can be your friend or your enemy.
Jonah in the Bible faced limitations–or, so he thought. We place ourselves in Jonah’s shoes when we look to our entitlement and forget our mission. He prayed for shade which God provided, but the loss of his shade caused bitterness rather than gratitude. His comfort outbid and won in his mind over the salvation of the city of Nineveh. God’s mission of love transcends what makes us comfortable, but it doesn’t mean God is not empathetic to our pain. Jonah hoped the limitations of distance could keep his mission distant. Such limitations are not our monkey to wear. God controls all the limitations. The hope is that God decides to remove one or more of them as soon as possible! But, he may decide not to rid us of limits. How do we react when he says “no” matters greatly. We can say “yes” or be like Jonah.
We can see limitations as the structure to thrive in or fight reality and waist our vigor on windmills. Thriving within limitations means a release of fighting the system at every step and learning to leverage what is in your charge. Jonah did not choose this well. We don’t command the wind. However, we do know who commands the wind. So, we can pray for the wind and should. Or, we can ask God about how to learn to build a sail. Capturing the wind is a good metaphor for leveraging limitations. So, limitations can be like wind within the sails of a ship. Perhaps, there are some of these limitations that can be like the wind in sails. It seems as if God has given you and I the abilities to thrive even when the wind is absent. Our sail is then ready, but we don’t control the wind. Are we happy to live in this reality or do we see limitations as fateful endings? The storm can either propel us or overwhelm us. We choose the perspective we want. Will our choice be the right one?
When we take our discussion back to leading worship and music in our local church, we hopefully are encouraged by the challenges rather than defeated by their presence. Remember, limitations exist, but they can be your friend. While it might be convenient to think a microphone purchase or a new tool will help me, limitations will still be there. When you fix one issue, it creates another. When one pain becomes joy, another pain is uncovered. The hope is to choose to see limitations as our friend, thriving within them even when they may not feel so friendly.